3 Epiphany Yr B, 25/01/2008
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“Silent waiting for God”
In a “Dennis The Menace” comic strip a few years ago, Dennis is with his dog, Ruff, beside him. They are also walking with Margaret. Dennis is happily pulling a red wagon, while Margaret, clinging to her doll, is chattering to the wind.
In the second panel, Dennis gives Ruff a quick, side view glance while Margaret’s yakking goes on and on. However, she is now speaking right in Dennis’ ear.
In scene three, Margaret is wildly pelting Dennis with her doll, raising her voice and saying, “Dennis, you’re not listening to me when I’m speaking to you.”
The final panel has Dennis turning towards Margaret and answering, “Margaret, I’m listening to you, it’s just that I’m not paying any attention!”
Silence. We too struggle with silence. I think this is a very real issue for many people today in our advanced world. We, like Dennis have probably had similar experiences, wherein we were not speaking, we may have listened to someone talking, however we failed to pay attention. Why? Because our minds were preoccupied with other things, they were in another world, another place. We may have been present in body, while our minds were somewhere else. We failed miserably, like Dennis in our listening, even though we may have been silent.
We also most likely have felt like Margaret in the cartoon. We are speaking with someone else, sharing our thoughts with them. However, we can see from their body language, particularly their face, that far-away look, as if they were transported to another world. We know that our words are not really being heard. It’s as if we were talking to a wall rather than a human being. Even though the person we’re addressing is silent, they, like Dennis in the cartoon are not paying attention.
This can be a most frustrating thing for us, because all of us need to be heard. Sometimes, we feel like Margaret that we’re not being taken seriously, or people don’t really care, because they don’t really listen with care to what we say. Or, as we also have likely experienced, they were not paying attention to what we said, so they misunderstood the intention of our words. Communication can be and often is a challenge isn’t it?!
As I said earlier, I think it is especially difficult for most of us in our day and age to be silent, to wait, to watch, to pay attention, to engage in careful, deep listening. That is a challenge for us. Why? Well, because our world today is so full of noise and activities. Science and technology speeds up our lives to such a fast pace that it has become normal to fill our lives with impatience and noise. In fact, some people struggle so much with stillness and silence that it is next to impossible for them to be still or silent for long. Even when people are alone, they often have the T.V. or radio or stereo blaring away to fill up their space. Complete silence for them is anathema, or an oxymoron. Silence is just too threatening; they don’t know what to do, or how to handle it.
Even if people do appreciate silence and try to listen with care, it is still more of a challenge today, I think, than it was centuries ago. Why? Because if one lives in a large city, which most people in the world do, then there is the constant struggle with noise pollution. Airplanes fly overhead. Cars and trucks speed along the major roadways with horns beeping and engines roaring. Even people chattering in buildings or on public transportation systems or in shopping malls fill our lives with noise.
Over against all of the noise and fast pace of life today, Psalm sixty-two gives us a different, refreshing view of life. King David writes: “For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is in him.” Silence. Silent waiting. Silent waiting for God. The psalmist is able to wait for God alone in silence because God is the Source of his hope. He is confident in God. He trusts in God. He relies in and depends on God for life and everything in life.
Waiting for God in silence reassures the psalmist of who God is and what he does. God, the psalmist discovers in silence is: “my rock, my salvation, my fortress, my refuge. In other words, God is the psalmist’s Source of strength, safety and protection. God is the psalmist’s true security. God is the psalmist’s Source of health and offers him an inviting spacious place in which to live. All of these images of God bring the psalmist a deep sense of comfort and confidence. It is thanks to God that King David was delivered from his enemies. Thanks to God, he was given honour among his people as Israel’s ideal king. Honour here in the biblical sense is a combination of being blessed by God with wisdom, wealth, property and valour. When one is honoured one is valued and respected in the community. All of this is a gift from God.
In the history of Israel and the Church, countless people of faith have also found God to be their rock, salvation, fortress and refuge too, just like King David. When they waited on God alone in silence, they too learned more clearly who God truly is and what he does.
Think, for example, of the prophet Elijah. Remember that he ran away for a time in the wilderness to hide for fear of his life. Then, to his surprise, God revealed himself in the sound of sheer silence. It was in the sound of sheer silence that God encouraged Elijah and gifted him with the grace and every blessing that he needed to go back to his people and serve God as a prophet. In the sound of sheer silence, Elijah re-discovered the confidence and security that he needed to fulfill his calling as a prophet.
In the New Testament, we think of Jesus himself as our perfect example of what it means to wait for God alone in silence. The gospels tell us that Jesus would often get up early in the morning to go to a quiet place so that he could spend time with his heavenly Father in silent prayer and meditation. These silent times of retreat for Jesus strengthened him for his public ministry.
In recent times, here is what Mother Teresa once said about the importance for us today to wait on God alone in silence: “We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature–trees, flowers, grass–grow in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. Is not our mission to give God to others through the Word? Not a dead God, but a living, loving God. The more we receive in silent prayer, the more we can give in our active life. We need silence to be able to touch souls. The essential thing is not what we say, but what God says to us and through us. All our words will be useless unless they come from within–words which do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness.”1
To Mother Teresa’s words of wisdom I say “AMEN!” And, I encourage each one of you to take some time each day to turn to God alone and wait, pray, listen in silence. I am confident that he will speak to you through the silence if you are truly listening with care, just as he has done and continues to do so for countless people throughout the ages, and right up to the present day. Find a quiet place. If you have noisy surroundings, try using ear plugs to shut out the noise. The key too is to find the time when you are most alert–for some that will be the morning, for others it will be afternoon or evening. When you are most alert, you shall likely be the most receptive in concentrating on listening with care. The other bit of advice I offer you is to be in a comfortable position, sit on the most comfortable chair so that you can relax your body as you pray and meditate in silence. All of these things have proven helpful for many people. I hope they will be for you too.
Silence can be as the old saying goes, “golden.” It can reveal to us many treasures from our LORD of priceless worth. Most importantly, silence can strengthen our relationship and draw us ever closer to Jesus who is and wants to be our closest Friend and Brother as well as our God and Saviour. Amen.
1 Unfortunately, I’ve lost the source of this quotation attributed to Mother Teresa.